First I will say that Saturday was my birthday and my dear husband gave me a new camera, so you can evolve with me as I figure out how to use it and (hopefully) make better pictures than we’ve seen thus far. Yes, I confess it…all my photos were taken with a phone up to this point!
So, back to my birthday…we live within 2 hours of a gorgeous mountain area called Highlands, North Carolina, and since the first day of October was a stunningly beautiful fall day in the south—complete with very cool fall temps—we decided to go there to celebrate. (Lucky me!)
On the drive up, the cloudless sky was an amazing clear blue that only fall can bring, and unseasonably cold temperatures at night had caused the trees to just start showing some color. A picture perfect day!
We arrived in town and proceeded to check into the Highlands Inn. Built in 1880, the Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and is centrally located in downtown Highlands. I imagine it looks very much like it did in the late 1800’s, with charming furnishings and stenciled walls. It has a wonderful upstairs porch where you can sip a drink, read a good book, or just do some people watching—whatever your heart desires. We settled in, walked around and took in some of the sights, then came back and enjoyed a glass of champagne on the porch before dinner.
The restaurant On the Verandah is our favorite in this area. Located about 1/4 mile from downtown, it has a most picturesque setting on the banks of lovely Lake Sequoyah. You can choose to sit out on their spacious enclosed porch and dine while watching wildlife around the lake and maybe catch a mountain sunset, or you can sit in the main dining room listening to live jazz played on the piano.
We chose the porch as it was just about sunset, and ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. The view there is lovely and tranquil, albeit a bit difficult to photograph through the windows. It makes for a most romantic and idyllic place to dine.
There are lots of great choices on the menu, all featuring locally grown produce and herbs from their garden and fresh fish, seafood, meat and chicken dishes. A local had recommended trying the Maine Lobster Piccata with Lemon Thyme Beurre Blanc & Capers appetizer as a not-to-be-missed dish, which we split, and…what happened? It was gone before I could snap a decent photo! A terrific suggestion and I’m glad we didn’t miss it. My husband quipped to our server that he could “eat a bowl full of that beurre blanc it’s so good,” and low and behold, bless her, she brought him a bowl of beurre blanc! We returned the generous offer as we didn’t want to spoil appetites for the main event, but that was about the sweetest gesture from a server that I’ve seen lately.
For entrees, husband ordered the broiled fresh trout—which you can choose to have with either a lemon sauce or with the pecan butter that he chose—and I ordered the seared sea scallops and wild shrimp over herbed risotto. Both dishes were out of this world good. The fresh mountain trout is blanketed with pecans in a very light sweet/savory butter sauce hinting of bourbon, and served with a hearty and flavorful wild rice and the day’s vegetables of fresh haricots verts and carrots.
The scallops and the shrimp were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and tasted so fresh that you’d think you were at the coast instead of so far inland. A creamy herbed risotto was fragrant and delicious—a lovely foil for the shellfish—and the dish was finished with a kiss of a light lemony sauce which complimented and enhanced all of the flavors. For birthday dessert we split the bourbon chocolate pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream that you see above, kindly served with a candle and complimentary champagne…sweet! After an hour and a half of fine eating and drinking, we reluctantly pushed ourselves away from the table and headed back into town to the Hummingbird Lounge at the Old Edwards Inn to hear some live music. Located directly across the street from our hotel, the Old Edwards Inn is another great place to stay, complete with luxurious accommodations, a wine garden next to the pool, it’s own restaurant, bar and spa facilities.
The next morning we awoke to another jaw droppingly beautiful day, and before heading home we checked out a “grocery” store that looked intriguing and was right in the middle of the downtown area. The Mountain Fresh Grocery and Wine Shop is indeed a grocery…a very gourmet grocery, featuring a large and fine wine section, organic and local provisions, a deli, a bakery and homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. The daily special hot sandwich feature for lunch was an “Apple Jack Ham Sandwich” served with a cup of butternut squash bisque. Of course we couldn’t resist.
This sandwich was huge and could have fed two people easily! It was bursting with two thick slices of grilled Virginia ham, jack cheese, a slice of granny smith apple, lettuce, tomato and a light sauce, and was both grand and immensely filling. The squash bisque was light and flavorful—a warming and perfect accompaniment to the sandwich. Sated, we rolled ourselves out of the store, into the car and headed home, feeling refreshed from our day in the mountains, but a little sleepy after such a big sammy.
We only scratched the surface of the Highlands area this trip. In addition to the places I’ve mentioned, there’s an art museum, a natural history center, walking trails around the center of town, hiking trails and waterfalls just outside of town and along the highway to nearby Cashiers. And shopping…lots and lots of shopping. Our next trip up will be more hiking oriented—or so I’m promising myself after spending so much of this one eating and drinking—but all in all, it was the perfect birthday getaway, one I’d recommend, and a grand way to start off another year.